Well before Google and Facebook dominated the flow of information, R.L. Polk & Co. brought information to the masses. Beginning in 1870, the family-owned business started gathering data and information and provided it for consumption. And while the family focused on democratizing information, their immense contributions to American society went unnoticed. Until now. The upcoming book “America According to Polk” will finally share the information the Polk’s never gave to the American public: its family history.
Ralph Lane Polk started the company in 1870 as a 21-year-old. He mustered out of the Union Army in 1865 and went home to Trenton, N.J. where he gained a variety of critical experience including door-to-door sales. He then followed the national trend, moved west and started selling directories in Cincinnati. The company grew from there to become an information juggernaut with one Ralph Polk after another serving at the head of the company.
It wasn’t until 1994 that Stephen Polk took over as CEO and helped lead the company to reach new levels of success as key segments became obsolete due to advancing technology.
Stephen Polk never thought he’d lead R.L. Polk & Co. He was happy studying the yellow-bellied sapsucker habitats in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. And though his love for biology has never faltered, Polk finally felt the urge to join the family business in 1981 when he was 25. Just four years later, the biologist was on the fast track to leading the company after a tragic accident claimed the life of his brother, and former CEO, Ralph Polk IV less than one year after their father Polk III had passed.
When he joined the company, Stephen spent time in a variety of entry level jobs just learning. In fact, he worked on the last directories of major cities gathering information door to door. That experience helped him to see that the directory business was becoming obsolete.
Though Stephen Polk was never groomed to lead the family business, it became clear that he was exactly the leader the company needed. During his first year as CEO, Polk told the board: “No other company in the country can claim [Polk’s] depth of information services, but we have not been living up to the potential we should.”
Polk’s 1994 challenge to the board paid off, and he oversaw the sale of the company in 2013 after leading a successful revitalization of the business.
For the first time ever, the complete story of the Polk family, and its deep contributions to United State’s history, will finally be told. “America According to Polk” is the story of one of America’s most influential families. Before anyone had any idea what Silicon Valley was, the Polk’s were the true tycoons of information.